Having children is not the antidote to depression: looking at the suicides of Robin Williams and others we loved


Like so many other people, I can’t stop thinking about Robin Williams, the beloved actor and comedian who committed suicide on Monday. Like so many other people, I felt a bond with him, loved him like family. We were about the same age, both performers, and both from the San Francisco Bay Area. Beyond that, did we have anything in common? Maybe not. But now I do share something with his family: suicide. Many years ago, my great-grandfather killed himself with a shotgun. More recently, my uncle hung himself in his garage. Robin’s death by hanging brings it all back to me. Why couldn’t these men go on?
They all had wives and children who loved them. They had good homes and enough money. They had work and hobbies they loved. It would seem they had so many reasons to live. So, what happened? What demons overpowered them and made them take their own lives?
These men left children and grandchildren to pick up the pieces, not just to do the practical things like arranging funerals and sorting their possessions but to remember and share their memories forever. If they can’t go on, how can we, who may never have children or grandchildren?
We can. We must. I have dealt with depression and anxiety throughout my life. I have been in counseling for years. For most of that time, I resisted taking any kind of medication for it. No, I don’t need drugs, I said. After my uncle died, I changed my mind. Give me the drugs. I do not want to follow in his footsteps. I take a small dose of a mild drug, but it helps.  
You know what? It makes no difference whether or not I have children. Depression is an illness, and it can come to anybody. And you know what’s more important? My life is not just about the children I had or didn’t have. There’s so much more to life. I am a complete person all by myself, and I have been given many gifts that God wants me to use in this life. I hope to use them until I die a natural death and maybe beat my grandfather’s record of living to age 98.
Many people who comment at this blog worry about how they will feel later if they don’t have children. Will they regret it? Will they be overwhelmed by grief that never goes away? Will their lives not be worth living? I have to tell you the hardest part is when you’re still trying to figure out what to do. Have children or not? Stay with this partner or not? Once it’s a done deal, it gets so much easier. There are moments of regret and sadness. It’s a loss, just like when someone dies. You will always wonder “what if?” I’m not going to pretend that I don’t wonder who will pick up the pieces when I die. But even if you never have kids, you will still have a life worth living, one full of gifts and possibilities. You will also have freedom to do things you might not have been able to do if you had children.
If you can’t imagine life without children, find a way to have them. Change partners, do IVF, adopt, volunteer. But if you are certain you have found your one true love, and that love will not give you children, accept that this is your life. Whatever happens, live the life you’re given, and for God’s sake, don’t give up. I know from personal experience that the hardest thing in the world is to reach out when the despair is so heavy all you want to do is disappear. But do reach out. Call a friend. Send an email. Tell someone how you feel. Grab a lifeline that will get you through today and into tomorrow when it will be easier. And if someone you love seems to be struggling, don’t wait to be asked; reach out to them.
We will get through this together. RIP, Robin, Uncle Don and Grandpa Joe.
Have you had a connection with suicide? What qualities give your life value in spite of not having children? Please share in the comments. 

When You Can’t Bear the Childless Grief Alone

This is a touchy subject, one that may make you reach for the mouse to close this blog, but please don’t do it yet. Stay with me for a few paragraphs.
At least once a week, I get a comment to this blog that leads me to cautiously, timidly suggest that maybe the writer might benefit from seeking counseling. I am not implying that they are crazy, but I am saying it might help to talk to a professional psychologist, psychiatrist or family counselor. People are very sensitive about this, so I hesitate to say it, but sometimes I feel I have to. These commenters say things like “I see no reason for living” or “I just can’t go on” or “I can’t remember the last time I felt happy.” These are red flags that a person may be suffering from depression.
There’s no shame in struggling to deal with grief or confusion over facing the possibility–or the certainty–of being childless. It hurts. It’s a loss, just as much as if someone had died. If you didn’t feel sad, that would be unusual. If it’s weighing you down to the point where you can’t get up in the morning day after day, not just once in a while, maybe you could benefit from finding an impartial professional to talk to.
I’ve been in counseling off and on over the years. The first time, I was coming out of an abusive relationship and found myself too depressed to function. I had given my heart and soul to this man, and he trampled all over it. Having no money, I called the county mental health department and got an appointment with a counselor. That first session, this kind woman made me feel so much better simply by listening to what I’d been through and letting me know it was not my fault. She took the burden off my shoulders. Many years later, a wise counselor helped me work through my husband’s illness and death. Believe me when I say it’s okay to get help.
Many readers here are struggling to figure out what to do. They are often in a situation where their partners are refusing to have children or there’s a medical problem, and they don’t know whether to leave that person or stay and accept that they’ll never have kids. This is a horrible choice in which no one will come out happy. You could talk to your parents, your siblings, your friends, or your co-workers, but they’re all biased. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who can see all sides of the problem, who will let you say anything you want in complete confidentiality, and help you work through your decisions.
There are various kinds of counselors. Psychiatrists are doctors who are licensed to dispense medication. Psychologists are PhDs trained in mental health and counseling. Licensed clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists have master’s degrees and clinical training in counseling. I see a psychiatric nurse practitioner who not only can prescribe meds but also does hypnosis, biofeedback, art therapy and many other techniques. She also gives good hugs. Most insurances cover psychiatric care to some extent. I have never paid more than a minimal co-pay. Ask your primary care doctor for a referral. There are also government agencies and groups such as Catholic Charities that can help if money is a problem. It’s a hard phone call to make, but you can do it.
This is a huge subject for which I have barely touched the surface. Here are links to more information. “Finding a Therapist Who Can Help You Heal”  provides solid information about what therapy is and the types available. “Symptoms of Depression” from WebMD will help you understand the difference between ordinary sadness and depression.
What do you think about all this? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts.